FEATURE STORY

World Is Locked into About 1.5°C Warming & Risks Are Rising, New Climate Report Finds

November 23, 2014

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The new "Turn Down the Heat" report explores the risks worsening climate change poses to lives and livelihoods across three regions: Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa.
  • It finds that globally, warming of close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times – up from 0.8°C warming today – is already locked into Earth’s atmospheric system by past and predicted greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Everyone will feel the impact, particularly the poor, as weather extremes become more commons and risks to food, water, and energy security increase.

In the Andes of South America and across the mountains of Central Asia, the glaciers are receding. As temperatures continue to warm, their melting will bring more water to farms and cities earlier in the growing season, raising the risk of damaging floods. Within a few decades, however, the risk of flood in these areas will become risk of drought. Without action to stop the drivers of climate change, most of the Andean glaciers and two-thirds of Central Asia’s glaciers could be gone by the end of the century.

These changes are already underway, with global temperatures 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, and the impact on food security, water supplies and livelihoods is just beginning.

A new report explores the impact of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia and finds that warming of close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times is already locked into Earth’s atmospheric system by past and predicted greenhouse gas emissions. Without concerted action to reduce emissions, the planet is on pace for 2°C warming by mid-century and 4°C or more by the time today’s teenagers are in their 80s.

The report warns that as temperatures rise, heat extremes on par with the heat waves in the United States in 2012 and Russia in 2010 will become more common. Melting permafrost will release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that will drive more warming in a dangerous feedback loop. Forests, including the Amazon, are also at risk. A world even 1.5°C will mean more severe droughts and global sea level rise, increasing the risk of damage from storm surges and crop loss and raising the cost of adaptation for millions of people.

“Today’s report confirms what scientists have been saying – past emissions have set an unavoidable course of warming over the next two decades, which will affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said.  “We cannot continue down the current path of unchecked, growing emissions.”

As governments gather in Lima for the next round of climate negotiations, this report and others provide direction and evidence of the risks and the need for ambitious goals to decarbonize economies now. 

Turn Down the Heat

Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal is the third in a series of reports commissioned by the World Bank Group from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. The first report looked at risks globally if the world were to warm by 4°C. The second report focused on three regions – Africa, South Asia, and South East Asia – and the risks to food security, water security, and low-lying cities exposed to dangerous sea level rise and vulnerability to storms.

The new report comes on the heels of strong new warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about the pace of climate change and the energy transformations necessary to stay within 2°C warming.

 



" Today’s report confirms what scientists have been saying – past emissions have set an unavoidable course of warming over the next two decades, which will affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most. We cannot continue down the current path of unchecked, growing emissions.  "
Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group

Jim Yong Kim

President, World Bank Group


Latin America and the Caribbean

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the report warns of longer droughts, extreme weather, and increasing ocean acidification.

In the tropical Andes, rising temperatures will reduce the annual build-up of glacier ice and the spring meltwater that some 50 million people in the low-land farms and cities rely on. Heat and drought stress will substantially increase the risk of large-scale forest loss, affecting Amazon ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as the forests’ ability to store carbon dioxide.

Rising temperatures also affect food security. The oceans, which have absorbed about 30 percent of all human-caused carbon dioxide so far, will continue to acidify and warm, damaging coral ecosystems where sea life thrives and sending fish migrating to cooler waters. The result for the Caribbean could be the loss of up to 50 percent of its current catch volume.

Middle East and North Africa

People in the Middle East and North Africa have been adapting to extreme heat for centuries, but the report warns of unprecedented impact as temperatures continue to rise.

Extreme heat will spread across more of the land for longer periods of time, making some regions unlivable and reducing growing areas for agriculture, the report warns. Cities will feel an increasing heat island effect, so that by 4°C warming – possibly as early as the 2080s without action to slow climate change – most capital cities in the Middle East could face four months of exceedingly hot days every year.

Rising temperatures will put intense pressure on crops and already scarce water resources, potentially increasing migration and the risk of conflict. Climate change is a threat multiplier here – and elsewhere.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the report shows how the impact of climate change will vary region to region. Melting glaciers and warming temperatures will shift the growing season and the flow of glacier-fed rivers further into spring in Central Asia, while in the Balkans in Eastern Europe, worsening drought conditions will put crops at risk.

Rising temperatures also increase the thawing of permafrost, which releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat. By mid-century, if temperatures continue to rise, the release of methane from thawing permafrost is likely to increase 20 to 30 percent in Russia, creating a feedback loop that will drive climate change.

Working to Lower the Risk

 “The good news is that there is a growing consensus on what it will take to make changes to the unsustainable path we are currently on,” President Kim said. “Action on climate change does not have to come at the expense of economic growth.”

At the World Bank, we are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy to help countries lower their emissions while growing their economies, and in clean transportation that can put fast-growing cities onto more sustainable growth paths.

We are also working with governments to design policies that support clean growth, including developing efficiency standards, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, and pricing carbon. It’s clear that the public sector cannot solve the climate challenge alone – private investment and smart business choices are crucial, but business leaders tell us they need governments to provide clear, consistent policy direction that reflects the true costs of emissions. We now screen our projects in 77 countries for climate risk and for opportunities for climate action. We are helping countries find opportunities in climate action and developing financial instruments to increase funding that can help them grow clean and build resilience.

“Our response to the challenge of climate change will define the legacy of our generation,” President Kim said. “The stakes have never been higher.”